Shell is the second album from Japanese duo Naikaku. Bassist Satoshi Kobayashi and flautist Kazumi Suzuki receive a lot of help from session musicians Norimitsu Endo on drums and Mitsuo on guitars and trumpet. The sound Naikaku achieve is refreshingly original and exhausting in its intensity. As a point of comparison, Naikaku mixes the ferocity of King Crimson with the psychedelia of Ozric Tentacles as well as the gentle pastoral woodwinds of Anglagard, incredibly without particularly sounding like any of those bands.
Shell will likely overwhelm the listener on first listen with its flurry of agitated activity. After many listening sessions, I'm still baffled by the discordant pandemonium on display. This is a CD that will demand your attention so be prepared to devote an hour of active listening, preferably with a good set of headphones.
The fifteen-minute "Crisis" opens the album and the track covers a lot of ground: Eastern motifs, heavy metal riffs, jazz fusion-y rhythms and a wildly chaotic middle section featuring muted trumpet. The energy levels do not let up here or anywhere else on this CD. "Ressentiment" is probably the most accessible track and is somewhat akin to recent Porcupine Tree, particularly with regard to the barrage of guitar riffs. Track three does not have a title, but apparently takes some kind of inspiration from philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. For many listeners, the 16-minute title track will be the crowning achievement here. Mitsuo's guitar battles it out with sampled Mellotron strings before breaking into a quiet passage featuring Suzuki's flute. But things don't remain quiet for very long. The track is quite heavy and largely carried by Mitsuo's guitar leads as well as an extremely tight rhythm section.
By and large, Shell is an incredible album. Occasionally the band indulges on the chops at the expense of lasting melodies, but I suppose many a progressive band could be accused of that crime. One thing is for certain and that is Naikaku is full of great musicianship and I'm not sure why Mitsuo is a "support member" as he is in many ways the star of the show. If you like your prog instrumental and noodly, Shell will be a sure winner and a welcome addition to the collection.